Ask any resident of our quaint little island where the best Indian food in town is and you’ll get the same few responses – Lanterns, Copper Chimney, Spices, Nirvana, and maybe a few shout-outs to Saravana Bhavan and Sangeetha. These restaurants are good. Very good. But are they the best? I’m not so sure.
Those familiar with Salmabad will immediately have an image pop into their heads. Intertwined dusty streets filled with car part stores, garages, industrial lots, and littered with cars seemingly left to rot in the unforgiving sun.
I ventured out to Salmabad with a friend to get some car work done one morning (Yep! Another breakfast post. Shocking.) and hunger hit us… hard. So we ventured out in hopes of finding something, anything, to eat. We made it about 80 metres before spotting a small shop with some Indian snacks in the window. Maybe they have something more substantial? Worth investigating at the very least.
Enter Al Maisam
We step into the narrow shop front and were greeted by, who we would later find out, the head cook – Prem. My friend was quick to explain that we were looking for a proper meal. Prem explained, almost apologetically, that they did serve food, but only Punjabi food. I guess I kinda stick out as ‘not from around here’. I said that was perfect and his eyes lit up and he showed us to a table.
There’s no menu at Al Maisam. You just eat what they cook, and in the mornings, they cook chole bhatura. Chole = chick peas. Bhatura, at first glance, looks like a huge puri, but they are fundamentally different breads. Puri, at a very basic level, is made from nothing more than atta (wheat flour), water, and salt. Mix, roll, and deep fry. Bhatura on the other hand is a little more complex. It uses white flour in place of wheat, but also includes a leavening agent such as yogurt or yeast. It’s mixed, let to rise, then rolled and fried. The result is nothing short of spectacular, especially when you execute it perfectly, which Al Maisam certainly does. A super thin crispy outside layer gives way to a soft, almost fluffy interior that melts in your mouth. You take that first bite of the piping hot bhatura and think to yourself ‘It doesn’t get any better than this’. But it does! As good as the bhatura is, it doesn’t take away from the real star of the show, the chole. It’s perfect. I could try all day long and never find fault with it. Beautifully crafted gravy and chick peas that turn to cream as you bite down on them.
Along with the chole bhatura you get a potato curry which is very nice, and some raita to help cool things down if it gets too hot. Halfway through our meal Prem came and checked up on us, and asked us if we were interested in naan. We were already getting full, but figured it would be rude to refuse. What came a few minutes later was an aloo kulcha. Naan like bread stuffed with a spiced potato mixture, dotted with green chilies, cooked in a tandoor, and slathered with ghee. Unbelievable. No stuffed naan I’ve ever had has come close.
Food this good, I would pay almost anything for. But one of the most amazing things about this tiny powerhouse of a restaurant is the price. The chole bhatura plate, complete with chole, bhatura, raita, salad (chopped onions, carrots, and cucumber), potato curry, and chai will set you back a whopping BD1. ONE. DINAR. I’m not entirely sure if the kulcha is extra. If it is, it’s probably around 200 fils. Sure, you can find prices like this in Bahrain, but value like this is very difficult to find.
It’s tucked between repair shops, has very little seating, is hot inside, has no parking, and probably doesn’t take cards, but I’ll be damned if this isn’t one of the best meals I’ve had on the island, and possible one of the best meals I’ve had… period. It may be a humble little restaurant, but in my eyes, it sits squarely on top of the pile of Indian restaurants in Bahrain.
Al Maisam’s Vital Statistics
- Phone: +973 34595082, +973 34323075
- Credit cards accepted: No
- Hours: Monday – Sunday, 3:30am – 10pm